Russia in Syria Monitor, Jan. 31-Feb. 7, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • At least 30 people died in air strikes on the rebel-held Syrian city of Idlib on Feb. 7, in some of the heaviest raids there in months, witnesses and rescue workers said. Around eight attacks were carried out by what witnesses believed to be Russian jets. Russia's Defense Ministry later said media reports that its planes had bombed Idlib were not true, Interfax news agency reported. (Reuters, 02.07.17)
  • The Russian Defense Ministry denied media reports of five servicemen being killed in Syria. The Al Jazeera television channel’s report about the death of Russian soldiers in Syria is false, and all Russian servicemen in Syria are well, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said on Feb. 5. (TASS, 02.05.17)
  • Russia has reinforced its military presence on the ground in the Syrian city of Aleppo with a police unit drawn largely from the Muslim-majority region of Chechnya. "I am a Sunni Muslim, a Chechen," Maj. Ruslan Numakhadjiev, the unit's commander, said. The commander said the troops were part of a deliberate effort to reach out to the local population in an area that was once the center of Sunni resistance to the Damascus regime. (Wall Street Journal, 02.01.17)

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Risk of accidental or intentional confrontation between Western and Russian forces in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • “Iranian military cooperation with Russia in Syria is dramatically increasing Tehran’s ability to plan and conduct complex conventional operations. Iranians are learning by seeing and by doing, and are consciously trying to capture lessons-learned in Syria for use throughout their military and para-military forces,” according to a recent report by the Institute for Study of War. (Institute for Study of War, 02.03.17)
  • During his campaign, U.S. President Donald Trump associated Islam with terrorism and criticized former U.S. President Barack Obama for declining to use the phrase ''radical Islamic terrorism.'' Russian President Vladimir Putin has, for more than a decade, been doing the same thing Obama did. He has never described terrorists as ''Islamic'' and has repeatedly gone out of his way to denounce such language. (New York Times, 02.01.17)

Other important news:

  • “I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not, and if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS—which is a major fight—and the Islamic terrorism all over the world, that’s a good thing,” U.S. President Donald Trump said in an interview with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. “Will I get along with him? I have no idea.” (The Moscow Times, 02.06.17)
  • The Trump administration is exploring ways to break Russia's military and diplomatic alliance with Iran in a bid to both end the Syrian conflict and bolster the fight against Islamic State, said senior administration and European and Arab officials involved in the policy discussions. "If there's a wedge to be driven between Russia and Iran, we're willing to explore that," a senior U.S. administration official said. The Kremlin said on Feb. 6 it did not agree with U.S. President Donald Trump's assessment of Iran as "the number one terrorist state," and wanted to deepen what it described as already good ties with Tehran. In a report released Feb. 3, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, cautioned that even if Moscow were to distance itself from Tehran, it wouldn't contain the enormous influence that Iran wields over Syria's economic, military and political institutions. "Any U.S. effort to subvert Iran's posture in Syria through Russia will undoubtedly end in failure," the assessment said. (Wall Street Journal, 02.05.17, Reuters, 02.06.17, Wall Street Journal, 02.05.17)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that U.S. President Donald Trump should be more specific about his proposal to set up safe zones in Syria, and said attempts to implement a similar policy in Libya had been tragic. (Reuters, 02.01.17)
  • Russia said on Feb. 5 that it supports the continuation of Syria peace talks under United Nations auspices. The long-running negotiations had been thrown into doubt by separate, Moscow-backed peace talks launched last month. (Reuters, 02.05.17)
  • Russian and U.S. diplomats continue to meet to discuss Syria in Geneva, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Feb. 7. (TASS, 02.07.17)
  • The Russian Embassy in the Syrian capital of Damascus was shelled on Feb. 2 and Feb. 3 but no one was hurt, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. (RFE/RL, 02.04.17)
  • Thousands of people have been hanged at a Syrian prison in a secret crackdown on dissent by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a report by Amnesty International alleges. The human rights group says as many as 13,000 people have been executed at Saydnaya prison, north of the capital Damascus in a "hidden" campaign authorized by senior regime figures. (CNN, 02.07.17)
  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that U.S-Russian cooperation in stepping up the fight against the militants would have positive repercussions. He also said that U.S. President Donald Trump prioritizing the fight against jihadists led by Islamic State was promising, although it was too early to expect any practical steps. (Reuters, 02.07.17)
  • The U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State has boosted support for its Syrian allies, supplying armored vehicles for the first time as they prepare for a new phase in their campaign to capture the Syrian city of Raqqa, a spokesman for the militia said on Jan. 31. (Reuters , 02.02.17)
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to travel to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in the first half of March. (Reuters, 02.03.17)